Thailand vs Cambodia – it’s a tough decision! These are two very different countries, but they both deliver incredible experiences to travellers. Keep reading to discover which country is right for your next adventure.
What’s in our Guide to Choosing Between Thailand and Cambodia?
Thailand vs Cambodia? Dang, that’s a hard choice!
Together, Stephen and I have spent plenty of time adventuring in Cambodia and Thailand, exploring each country’s cities, beaches, jungles, and other natural wonders. I’ve also travelled solo in both countries.
Of course, our advice is to stay long enough to travel to Thailand and Cambodia. But, since real life is always getting in the way of travel (so unfair, right?!?), you might need to make the decision.
Each country offers a unique personality and incredible experiences. There is a big difference between Thailand and Cambodia — which should actually make your choice a little easier.
So, with that in mind, read on to discover is Cambodia or Thailand is the best destination for your adventure.
Best Travel Experiences in Cambodia and Thailand
In Thailand’s south, you’ll see some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and islands, with dramatic karst formations sinking into azure blue seas. In the north, there are incredible ancient temples, luxury yoga retreats, and adventures in the jungle.
Did you know that Cambodia has incredible beaches and islands, too? The big difference is that, in Cambodia, you can easily find undeveloped, uncrowded and inexpensive beach paradises — which are much more difficult to find in Thailand.
In central Thailand, there are awe-inspiring ancient temples to be explored, while in northern Thailand, yoga retreats and adventures in the jungle await.
Cambodia’s most famous sight, Angkor Wat, is perfect if you’re a temple fanatic. And the country offers plenty of jungle trekking and wild adventures, too. If you like the wild side, don’t miss a visit to Chi Phat and the rest of the Cardamom Mountains region in Cambodia.
If you’re a city slicker at heart, or just love to feel the pulse of millions of people living out their stories side by side, then Bangkok will blow you away. There’s not another city in the world that can rival it!
While it’s an interesting city, Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s biggest city, just can’t rival the big city opulence of Bangkok. Phnom Penh is pretty rough around the edges, though it does offer lots of opportunity for foodies, plus a burgeoning craft beer scene.
Thailand is world-renowned for its beaches; Cambodia’s beaches are its best-kept secret. If you just want to lie back on a sun-lounger all day, with a cocktail in one hand and a trashy paperback in the other, then opt for the beaches of southern Thailand. Or, if you’re after a sailing adventure Thailand can deliver.
If you want to escape to a simple bamboo hut overlooking sparkling waters and empty stretches of sand – and you don’t really mind if there’s electricity or running water – then the beaches of southern Cambodia are perfect for you.
The best islands and beaches in Cambodia are along the south coast near Sihanoukville. Head there for your Cambodian island escape.
Wilderness and Trekking
Northern Thailand can deliver on the trekking front, but if you want to spend a lot of time in nature, Cambodia is the clear winner.
From the wild jungles of the northeast to the equally wild jungles of the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia offers non-stop outdoor adventures. As a bonus, many Cambodia travel experiences are focussed on eco-adventures and socially responsible projects, so it’s easy to give back to the communities you visit.
In Thailand, you can get close to elephants, tigers, and other wild animals – but that’s not a good thing! The country has a terrible record when it comes to animal cruelty. There are a few legitimate animal sanctuaries, but many who sell themselves as sanctuaries have been caught poaching, illegally breeding, or abusing wild animals.
In Cambodia, the big animal attractions are concentrated in the northeast, where elephants have long been a part of the culture. Skip the abused elephant rides at Angkor Wat and head to Mondulkiri’s Elephant Valley Project to spend the day tromping through the jungle following elephants.
If you’re going to visit a wildlife attraction in either country, please research carefully to ensure your money doesn’t contribute to animal cruelty.
If yoga and mindfulness practice is going to be a big part of your trip, Thailand should be your choice. In the north, near Chiang Mai and Pai, and the south, near Phuket and Ko Samui, there are hundreds of yoga retreats and yoga classes from which to choose.
Plus, the largely Buddhist population makes a daily habit of mindfulness — and it’s a fascinating culture for any yogi to explore.
You can also find yoga retreats in southern Cambodia and Siem Reap but the real mindfulness practice comes while you are exploring Cambodia. Travelling in Cambodia is a little harder than in Thailand, so your patience, sympathy, and empathy may be tested on a daily basis!
Travel Experiences – Thailand or Cambodia?
Travelling in Cambodia and Thailand are two very different experiences.
- If you want big-city life, parties, and beautiful beaches, with modern conveniences available almost anywhere, then opt for Thailand.
- If you’re looking for the opposite — undeveloped roads, wild nature, bamboo huts, and big adventure — then Cambodia should be your clear choice.
Getting around in any country in Southeast Asia is usually half the adventure. That’s why we like to avoid flying and take overland transport instead. Some of our most interesting days have been travel days!
Transportation in Cambodia
If you’re visiting the main tourist destinations in Cambodia, like Siem Reap, Kampot, and Kratie, then busses will be your primary mode of transportation. Most busses in Cambodia are in pretty bad shape and run terminally late – but they certainly make for an adventurous travel experience.
You’ll probably need to take a few mini-busses in Cambodia, which can be an adventure all on their own. Ever ridden in a van with two motorbikes, a few chickens, and a pile of rice bags? In Cambodia, you can!
There is a train system in Cambodia but it only runs every couple of days and, honestly, it’s probably not worth the bother.
Transportation in Thailand
In Thailand, the train service is much more developed. You can take a train from Bangkok to almost anywhere you want to go, including overnight trains to the north.
However, since the Thai rail lines radiate out from Bangkok, there are times when taking a bus will make more sense.
The tourist bus network is well developed, though Thai roads can be terrifying. According to World Nomads, they are among the most dangerous in the world – so be sure to book with a reliable bus company.
Cambodia vs Thailand – Transportation
Travelling in Thailand is undoubtedly a more comfortable affair than in Cambodia. But if you’re up for adventure and want to travel like the locals do, Cambodia is a better choice.
Food in Cambodia and Thailand
Food in Cambodia
While Thai food has a reputation that has spread around the world, Cambodian cuisine is a hidden gem – some of our favourite meals have been in Cambodia’s excellent restaurants. Make sure to visit one of the many excellent NGO-supported restaurants in Cambodia for a taste of some of the country’s best cuisine.
However, if you’re off the beaten track or exploring Cambodia’s street food, you’ll find generally lower-quality and less choice than in Thailand’s spectacular night markets.
Food in Thailand
If you’re an omnivore who likes to get out there and explore with your taste buds, Thailand will offer a more exciting and diverse food experience.
For vegans and vegetarians, it can be tough to find food in Thai night markets that you can eat. Our top tip is to search for the Pad Thai stall where you can ask for your noodles without animals!
(Don’t miss: Our guide to surviving as a vegan in Thailand) →
Of course, in the touristy areas of Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and the southern beach hotspots, you’ll find almost anything your tummy desires.
Thailand vs Cambodia – Food
Though we absolutely love some of the food in Cambodia, and think that Cambodian food is one of the most underrated cuisines in the world, Thai food tends to be more exciting, diverse, and of higher quality. If you just travel for the food, Thailand is the better choice.
Accommodation in Thailand and Cambodia
Budget accommodation in Cambodia and Thailand
Thailand has a huge array of budget accommodation, from $5 beds in highly-rated hostels, to a clean and comfortable private room for $10-15.
In Cambodia, the budget accommodation isn’t nearly as polished and there’s not as much choice. You can get a room in a homestay for $4 or a hostel bed in the $5, but chances are they won’t be as clean and comfortable as comparable places in Thailand.
Boutique and luxury accommodation in Vietnam and Thailand
If you’re looking for upscale accommodation in Cambodia, you don’t have to look far. You’ll get fantastic bang for your buck, too, with $50/night buying you a bed in a charming boutique hotel.
There are also a few luxury resorts where you can be treated like royalty for about the price of a room at the Best Western in Europe.
In Thailand, there are hordes of luxury and boutique hotels but you’ll usually pay more.
Cambodia vs Thailand – Accommodation
For a broader choice of accommodation at a higher level, Thailand has the edge when it comes to hotels and hostels.
However, to save money on luxury hotels, head to Cambodia where there are a few fabulous resorts with suites at reasonable prices.
Dangers and Annoyances
Bag snatchers and thieves
Though Cambodia and Thailand are both relatively safe places to travel, petty theft can be a problem in both countries. Bag snatchers on motorbikes run rampant through both Bangkok and Phnom Penh. Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t leave valuables dangling enticingly off your shoulder.
In Thailand, credit card and passport theft can also be a problem, so keep an eye on your important ID at all times.
Scams and sex tourism
Both Thailand and Cambodia have booming sex tourism industries and many people go there for that reason. (Seriously, if you want to be disgusted by humankind, just Google it.)
The sex industry in Cambodia and Thailand revolves around human trafficking and child sex rings — so even if you think you’re getting a “willing girl” for the night, you’re funding the lowest scum that crawl this planet.
Plus, some of the biggest scams in both countries are perpetrated on men who get involved in the local sex industry. If you want to avoid major trauma (and want to be a half-way decent human being) avoid the sex tourism in both Thailand and Cambodia.
Drugs drugs drug
In both Cambodia and Thailand, drugs are easily found.
For soft drugs, Cambodia offers lots of “happy” restaurants, where you can get a pot pizza or other food and drinks laced with marijuana. These restaurants, if not exactly legal, are a fairly safe place to get your buzz.
In Thailand, especially if you head to clubs or full-moon parties, almost everybody will be getting off their heads on something. If you want to join it, it won’t be hard.
However, in both countries, the police love to crack down hard on tourists in an opportunistic way. Drugs are illegal in both countries and police will pick you up for possession when they feel like it. If you don’t want to pay a hefty bribe or spend a few nights (or more) in a Southeast Asian prison, the best strategy is to stay away from drugs and find another way to have a good time.
Even if you don’t get caught by the authorities, drugs in Thailand and Cambodia can be cut with poisonous substances — avoid becoming a tragic headline by avoiding drugs when you’re on holiday. And yes, that includes over-the-counter medication, too.
Tuk tuk tales
Tuk tuk drivers in Thailand and Cambodia can be pretty annoying. In Cambodia, they are notoriously persistent – the best way to deal with them is with a friendly smile and stopping for a chat. In other words, treat them like human beings and they will treat you like one.
In Bangkok, tuk tuk drivers are true rip-off artists. I just avoid them altogether by using many of Bangkok’s other methods of transportation. Tuk tuks aren’t a great way to get around the metropolis anyway.
Thailand vs Cambodia – Dangers & Annoyances
Being busier and more modern, with a more developed party culture, Thailand is fraught with more dangers and annoyances than Cambodia, which still has a “village” feel to it in many parts.
Though there are relatively few dangers in both countries, the more touristed parts of Cambodia can be less daunting, especially for newer travellers and women travelling alone.
Solo Travel in Cambodia and Thailand
Cambodia solo travel
I have travelled alone quite a lot in Cambodia, but I wouldn’t say it’s ideal for solo travel. Though Cambodia is very safe for tourists, there are a few other ways in which solo travel in Cambodia is awkward.
For a start, lots of tours and activities have to be taken by tuk tuk or private car. If you’re in a group, you can share the cost, but alone, it gets pretty expensive!
I found that most of the adventurous things I wanted to were not available as group activities, so I had to find my own companions or not go on the tour.
Thailand solo travel
The only time I’ve travelled solo in Thailand was when I was being treated for, and subsequently recovering from, malaria. Not an ideal testing ground!
From all reports, solo travel in Thailand is safe and easy. With more tourists around, it’s easier to find a group to hang out with or people to share the costs of tours.
Cambodia or Thailand – Solo Travel
Especially for less experienced solo travellers, Thailand is the better option. There are more group activities and more travellers to connect with.
Solo travel in Cambodia is totally do-able (and possibly a little safer than Thailand) but it can be more expensive and you’ll need more resilience.
Thailand vs Cambodia – Which is Best for Your Adventure?
If you’re an adventurer at heart and are looking for an eye-opening soul-changing journey, then Cambodia wins. Because it is less developed and less flooded with tourists, you get to experience the culture more deeply.
If you’re looking for a comfortable adventure where you can ease into Asian culture, or you just need a break from your hectic life back home, then choose Thailand.
If you have limited time, you can often get a more meaningful travel experience by joining a tour.
Tours of Thailand
Tours of Cambodia
You made it to the end of the post, so have you made your decision? Are you going to go to Cambodia or Thailand? Or will you make the time to visit both? It would mean a lot to us if you’d let us know in the comments below!
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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